Sampha’s ‘Process:’ A rebirth of sonic excellence

Michael LaRocca, Associate Opinion Editor

Sampha celebrated the fifth anniversary of ‘Process’ by releasing two bonus tracks. Photo by NRK P3/Flickr

Everyone’s had that moment where a piece of art changed the way they see the world around them. Mine came in the late evening of Sept. 26, 2020.

On that day, in the midst of a darker time in my life, I found myself listening to the album “Process” by English artist Sampha, originally released on Feb. 3, 2017.

Before this moment, I primarily knew Sampha for his features on songs such as “Too Much” by Drake and “Saint Pablo” by Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West. Those songs were where his charming and unique voice stole the show from some of the most iconic artists of my time.

These tracks were enough for me to know that I was a fan of his sound. Out of curiosity, I scoured the Apple Music library to find out if he had any solo music, and what I stumbled upon would become my favorite album of all time.

I vividly remember that fateful Saturday night, alone at home. I decided to lay down in my bed and give this album a listen. A few moments into the first track “Plastic 100°C,” I learned what it felt like to ascend to a higher plane of existence as a result of music.

“Plastic 100°C” did a superlative job at establishing the starry tone of the album. The blend of natural piano and electronic sounds gave it an astral feel that, on occasion, may bring me close to tears.

The rest of the album provides the listener with more, switching between slower tracks like “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” and “Timmy’s Prayer,” and some ambitious electronic sequences like “Reverse Faults” and “Under.” Even the two songs I deem weaker than the rest, the mid-album interlude “Take Me Inside” and the final track “What Shouldn’t I Be?” are still head and shoulders above most songs I listen to on a daily basis.

The album’s theming was sublime, as Sampha decided to use “Process” as a vessel to explore his grief after the loss of his mother in 2015. The sentiment came through best on “Kora Sings” and “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” where he sings out to his mother in an attempt to remain close with her and preserve the memory of her.

The best example of this lyricism comes in “Kora Sings” where Sampha sings under the whimsical beat, “A mother needs a sons, oh she needs them near / We don’t need to talk, I just need you here / But if you go away, please don’t disappear … She says she can’t turn tables / Well I say, ‘You don’t know how well you are / Or just how strong you are / You don’t know how strong you are.’”

“Process” just recently celebrated its five-year anniversary this year and is to date Sampha’s only solo studio album. For the longest time, I was unsure whether he still made music, especially after his Instagram went cold after Nov. 30, 2018. At one point, I compared him to the great Lauryn Hill, whose only solo album was an opus of epic proportions.

On the album’s fifth anniversary, Sampha returned. In celebration of his album, he went back to social media to thank those who have stayed with him over the years and to inform the public that he is currently working on more music to release in the future. To curb his fan base’s cravings for more content, Sampha also decided to release the two bonus tracks to “Process,” which were formerly exclusive to Japan.

After learning about this revelation, I rushed to my Apple Music and immediately played the two tracks “In-between and Overseas” and “Answer.” Hearing Sampha sing was enough to have me tear up and hug my phone as if it were an old friend I had not seen since middle school.

This new release reminded me of how much I love this album. Having heard a great deal of music over the few years, “Process” is one of two albums I would give a legitimate perfect score, sitting alongside “Currents” by Tame Impala. I just find it sad how whenever I bring it up, no one has ever heard of it or even knows who Sampha is.

I want to spread the word about this masterpiece. It’s not like this album wasn’t liked upon release. The album won the 2017 Mercury Prize, awarded to the best album released in the U.K. by a British or Irish act, and was also given an 8.6 out of 10 rating by music review site Pitchfork.

This isn’t the first time I have tried to show off this album to the public before. In May 2021, during my high school stint with WMCX Radio in West Long Branch, New Jersey, I dedicated an entire episode of my weekly show to this album, explaining to whoever was listening why I love it so much. A year later, my sentiments remain the same.

“Process” is likely the most underrated collection of music I have ever listened to. Even with its rare low points, there is nothing stopping this album from being a perfect experience from front to back. Even though it is five years old, there has never been a better time to experience what it has to offer.